Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13v


13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

The significance of triads to the Neoplatonists of late antiquity, their belief that being is before the thinking subject and that ‘all things are in all things, but in each after its own fashion’1 come together in Proclus’ triad of triads – Being, Life and Intelligence2 which he suspended from the first, unparticipated hypostasis. He systematically explored in this triad the potential of all three terms in their inter-relationships. To repeat, Prop. 103 from his Elements of Theology is

All things are in all things, but in each according to its proper nature: for in Being there is life and intelligence; in Life, being and intelligence; in Intelligence, being and life; but each of these exists upon one level intellectually, upon another vitally, and on the third existentially.3

Proclus’ argument for this proposition is

For since each character may exist either in its cause or as substantial predicate or by participation, and since in the first term of any triad the other two are embraced as in their cause, while in the mean term the first is present by participation and the third in its cause, and finally the third contains its priors by participation, it follows that in Being there are pre-embraced Life and Intelligence, but because each term is characterised not by what it causes (since this is other than itself) nor by what it participates (since this is extrinsic in origin) but by its substantial predicate, Life and Intelligence are present there after the mode of Being, as existential life and existential intelligence; and in Life are present Being by participation and Intelligence in its cause, but each of these vitally, Life being the substantial character of the term; and in Intelligence both Life and Being by participation, and each of them intellectually, for the being of Intelligence is cognitive and its life is cognition.4

Each term in the triad and each predominant term in the sub-triads mediates the other two terms which mirror it, bringing out an aspect of them such that they form a coherent triad or sub-triad.5 The sub-triads are a yet more thorough means of exploring and determining the relations between the terms within the overall triad which, as previously stated, are not only to be regarded as three aspects of a single reality but three successive stages, predominating in turn, in the Neoplatonic process. This is how Hegel used his philosophical ‘syllogism’.

 In On the Theology of Plato Bk IV, Ch. III Proclus wrote of the three gods Being, Life and Intelligence

All things therefore subsisting in these Gods…they are divided triply…Eternity, therefore, abides stably in the first triad. But the triad posterior to this, is the supplier to wholes [and therefore to all things,] of progression, motion, and life according to energy. And the third triad is the supplier of conversion to the one, and of perfection which convolves all secondary natures to their principles.6

He expanded on each sub-triad, comprised of ‘an appropriate peculiarity…an all-various multitude…of powers, and a variety of forms’

The intelligible and at the same time intellectual Gods therefore are, as I have said, triply divided. And essence indeed is that which ranks as first in them, but life is the middle, and intellect the extremity of them. Since however, each of these three is perfect, and participates of the intelligible monads, I mean of the essence which is there, of intelligible life, and of intelligible intellect, they are tripled according to the participation of primarily efficient causes. And the intelligible of life indeed possesses essence, intellect, and life intelligibly; but the intelligible and intellectual of it, possesses essence, life and intellect, intelligibly and at the same time intellectually; and the intellectual of it possesses these intellectually and intelligibly. And every where indeed, there is a triad in each of the sections, but in conjunction with an appropriate peculiarity. Hence three intelligible and at the same time intellectual triads present themselves to our view, which are indeed illuminated by the divine unities, but each of them contains an all-various multitude. …Each triad therefore comprehends in itself a multitude of powers, and a variety of forms, producing intelligible multitude into energy, and unfolding into light the generative infinity of intelligibles. And we indeed, being impelled from the participants, discover the peculiarity of the participated superessential Gods.7

Proclus wrote of his triad of triads that

according to the order of things, the intelligible and intellectual monads generate about themselves essences, and all lives, and the intellectual genera. And through these, they unfold the unknown transcendency of themselves, preserving by itself the preexistent cause of the whole of things.8

Hegel, as quoted in his discussion of Proclus’ triad (11.3.6), recognised this

These three triunities make known in a mystical fashion the absolute cause of all things, the first substance.9

and made it the basis of his own philosophy. The same ‘objective rationality’, the same ordering of the terms, rebadged as Logic, Nature and Spirit, the same ‘mediation’ of the other two terms by the predominant one in, effectively, a triad of triads, occurs in Hegel’s ‘doctrine of the triple syllogism’10

In their objective sense, the three figures of the syllogism declare that everything rational is manifested as a triple syllogism; that is to say, each one of the members takes in turn the place of the extremes, as well as of the mean which reconciles them. Such, for example, is the case with the three branches of philosophy: the Logical Idea, Nature, and Mind. As we first see them, Nature is the middle term which links the others together. Nature, the totality immediately before us, unfolds (my italics) itself into the two extremes of the Logical Idea and Mind. But Mind is Mind only when it is mediated through nature. Then, in the second place, Mind, which we know as the principle of individuality, or as the actualising principle, is the mean; and Nature and the Logical Idea are the extremes. It is Mind which cognises the Logical Idea in Nature and which thus raises Nature to its essence. In the third place again the Logical Idea itself becomes the mean: it is the absolute substance both of mind and of nature, the universal and all-pervading principle. These are the members of the Absolute Syllogism.11



1. “The general principle…that ‘all things are in all things, but in each after its own fashion’, is ascribed by Syrianus…to ‘the Pythagoreans’, and by Iamblichus to Numenius. …it is explicitly laid down by Porphyry and from Iamblichus onwards is much resorted to. The later school saw in it a convenient means of covering all the gaps left by Plotinus in his derivation of the world of experience, and thus assuring the unity of the system: it bridged oppositions without destroying them…The formula was taken over by ps.-Dion. …to be echoed at the Renaissance by Bruno, and later given a new significance by Leibniz.”, Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 254
2. ‘Such, therefore, is the order of this triad; so that what is divine indeed is unmingled and ranks as the first; that which is immortal is the second; and that which is intelligible the third. For the first of these is deified being; the second is life subsisting according to the immortality of the Gods (my italics – cf. Hegel’s Nature); and the third is intellect, which is denominated intelligible in consequence of being replete with union.’, Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. I, Ch. XXVI. He wrote of the triads of this triad: ‘here the first triad is essence, life and intellect, with appropriate unities. For essence is suspended from the first deity [of this triad,] life from the second, and intellect from the third. And these three superessential monads, unfold the monads of the first triad. But again, the second triad after this, was in the intelligible order, a superessential unity, power, and intelligible and occult life. Here however, essence, life and intellect are all vital, and are suspended from the Gods who contain the one bond of the whole of this order. For as the first unities were allotted a power unific of the middle genera, so the second unities after them, exhibit the connective peculiarity of primarily efficient causes. After these therefore, succeeds the third triad, which in the intelligible order indeed was unity, power, and intelligible intellect; but here it consists of three superessential Gods, who close the termination of the intelligible and at the same time intellectual Gods, and begird all things intellectually, I mean essence, life and intellect.’, Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. IV, Ch. III.
3. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 93
4. Ibid., Prop. 103, 93
5. Dodds exemplified Proclus’ application of mediation to Being: ‘This may be expressed by saying that the triad is mirrored within each of its terms, so that while e.g. the first term has Being as its predominant character, it is at the same time Life and Intelligence sub specie entitatis (under the appearance/aspect of being). The scheme is elaborately worked out in Th. Pl IV. i-iii; its purpose, as we there learn, is to reconcile distinctness with continuity.’, Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 254
6. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. IV, Ch. III
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 344
10. Hodgson in Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F.Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 277
11. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 250-251; Cf. The Elements of Theology, Prop. 148 ‘Every divine order has an internal unity of threefold origin, from its highest, its mean, and its last term. For the highest term, having the most unitary potency of the three, communicates its unity to the entire order and unifies the whole from above while remaining independent of it (prop. 125). Secondly, the mean term, reaching out toward both the extremes, links the whole together with itself as mediator (prop. 132); it transmits the bestowals of the first members of its order, draws upward the potentialities of the last, and implants in all a common character and mutual nexus – for in this sense also givers and receivers constitute a single complete order, in that they converge upon the mean term as on a centre. Thirdly, the limiting term produces a likeness and convergence in the whole order by reverting again upon its initial principle and carrying back to it the potencies which have emerged from it (prop. 146). Thus the entire rank is one through the unifying potency of its first terms, through the connective function of the mean term, and through the reversion of the end upon the initial principle of procession.’, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 131

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